This is clearly Rahul Gandhi's summer of content. The self-effacing Nehru-Gandhi scion, who was was once seen as a reluctant politician who shunned the media, is now being credited for his starring role in the resounding victory of the Congress in the 2009 elections and the revival of the party in Uttar Pradesh.
Senior party leaders have been quick to lavish praise on the 39-year-old Rahul Gandhi, along with his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, for the decisive victory of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which defied most pollsters' predictions who were projecting a fractured verdict.
The 2009 elections will shine in the Gandhi family lore. The year saw a stunning transformation of the Gandhi heir apparent into a shrewd strategist and politician as he emerged from his mother's sheltering shadows to campaign tirelessly in the blistering summer heat, addressing as many as 10-15 rallies a day.
Rahul Gandhi's role in mobilising the youth power, his strenuous efforts at rejuvenating the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, India's largest and most populous state where the party machinery had virtually ceased to exist, and his robust defence of Manmohan Singh as the party's prime ministerial candidate against the BJP's onslaught were seen as some of his singular contributions to the party's victory.
"The electorate wants the youth to come up. Rahul Gandhi should get the credit," senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal told IANS.
"People have shown faith in Rahul Gandhi's leadership," said Congress leader Digvijay Singh.
"The feedback we got from our workers was how Rahul Gandhi, in the past two-and-a-half years, worked in every area, and we had the confidence that it would help us," said party leader Ambika Soni.
"The way youth, for the first time, has shown enthusiasm for elections and has thought about joining politics is all because of Rahul Gandhi," Soni added.
The Congress general secretary in charge of youth affairs who became MP for the first time from Amethi in 2004, Rahul Gandhi proved to be a relentless campaigner, turning on his charm on voters, trumpeting the Congress' achievements with panache and demolishing opponents with withering sarcasm.
NDA exists only in the mind, he quipped famously at his New Delhi press conference at the Ashok Hotel. He addressed over 140 campaign rallies across India and said he wanted to usher in a new brand of democratic politics by promoting a new generation of future leaders chosen through internal elections and talent hunt.
He travelled extensively across Uttar Pradesh, which is the size of Britain and France combined, stayed at the homes of Dalit families and kindled hopes of revival for the party that once dominated the state. He also put his computer-savvy team to dig deeper into Mayawati's strategy of building a rainbow coalition spanning lower castes and upper castes and tried to replicate the model.
"Uttar Pradesh and Bihar used to be the heart of our strength and it is here we have declined considerably," he had said at a media interaction. Party insiders now cite Gandhi's exhortation to go it alone in Uttar Pradesh after seat-sharing talks broke down with the Samajwadi Party as a sign of his foresight and confidence.
"He is centrestage now. He is a fresh breath of change and represents a new generation of politics based on an across-the-board vision of India," Congress general secretary Tom Vadakkan, considered close to the Gandhi family, told IANS.
Vadakkan cited Rahul Gandhi's initiative in democratizing the Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India (NSUI), of which he is in charge, to underline that he is the future of the party.
For senior party leader M. Veerappa Moily, Rahul Gandhi is simply a "star" headed for a bigger role in the party and in national politics.
The party is upbeat about the man who could be king tomorrow, the long-distance runner who knows that time is on his side. As party general secretary Prithviraj Chavan says Rahul Gandhi is the "third pole" of the party after Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.